Still, taking down the Yoshioka is a crucial step in abolishing the “way of the sword,” an ancient code that binds samurai to their masters with unquestioning obedience. Musashi is prepared to risk everything … but even his spectacular gifts with the sword may prove no match for the cunning of powerful lords.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.70(d)|
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Hear it! Proclaim it!
The sundered realm is made anew, the shattered gem whole once more! Upon the dales of Sekigahara east of the Great Lake Biwa a tower of thirty thousand heads stands in testament!
The Armies of the East are triumphant! Proclaim it!
Take it to the ashen slopes of the sleeping volcanoes spread beneath the amber sunsets of Kyushu, call it to the birds there as they flock south so they too may bear it forth across the waves! Carry it northward, to the very tips of frigid Michinoku and the shores of alien Yezo, scream it so that the bearded Ainu hear it clustered in their frozen holes!
All of Japan! Hear it!
Oh, the very land beneath our feet hums that we should live in such a time! A Shogunate dawns once more, the progenitor of order, the bestower of benevolent peace, the way of things restored to how they ought to be! Serenity in the heavens, joy upon the earth!
Hail his militant grace the most noble Lord Ieyasu Tokugawa! Hail his imperial and undying majesty the Son of Heaven!
Swords at his sides, armor heavy upon him, onward Bennosuke Shinmen walked in solitude. He had left battle behind him, left all behind him.
A glancing blow from an unseen weapon had split his scalp, and the clotted wound now throbbed in time with the beat of his heart. The white of his left eye had turned crimson. The flesh upon his legs was scraped raw by the pinching of his greaves, knees and ankles calcified as he clambered over bush and trunk and waded through scrubland.
But he was alive. That alone was important, he knew now. He smiled as he suffered. Sekigahara, his enlightenment.
What things he had endured that day. Rout and defeat and the slaughter of those men whom he had called comrade for two years. The army he fought for was vanquished, the powers that army served laid low. But it was not a defeat for him—not for him, himself. He had fled the battle, and yet no words like coward nor any sense of shame at all occurred to him because he knew that he had not left in base terror but rather because his eyes had finally been opened.
He had seen hundreds of samurai killed, thousands, and in their bleak end spread before him he had realized the futility of servitude to callous Lords who sought nothing more than selfish power. Thousands of men bringing their own meaningless deaths down upon themselves through the act of choosing to follow these Lords, choosing to obey them, and even more than that thinking such things glorious and proper. This, the Way of the samurai.
Not for him—no longer.
This Bennosuke had sworn to himself in the midst of the carnage, and he swore it to himself again now a thousand times over; all Lords, all thought of service or deference to them, he had left behind him to die alongside all those who thought such things righteous. The revelation was profound.
He walked through wilderness headed for nowhere, but such was his rapture that he did not care. He was choosing to go—he alone. Bennosuke hauled himself up slopes, pulling at roots and creeping vines where he could. The gold leaves of autumn sighed deep around his feet. Hours passed. Gradually the pain from the wound on his head grew worse. His vision began to blur and eventually he vomited.
Clouds were gathering above, threatening a great rain. He looked up at them in the dimming light, but they did not seem to him foreboding. They were there, as he was here; neither had any right over the other.
With no energy to go farther, he simply sat and watched as they darkened and burst, and as he felt the drops fall upon his brow he did not run for shelter. The rain grew heavy and it washed the blood from him, washed the filth from him, and he held open his mouth and let it fill with the water, and nothing he could remember had tasted so real, so immediate.
A rare moment then that men meditated many hours seeking; a sense of perfect attunement.
Dark now, full night, only the sound of the rain falling through the half-bared branches, landing heavy and fat on the metal and wood and leather of his cuirass and spaulders. He sank onto his back, nestled himself into a cleft in the earth half covered by a fallen trunk in which leaves had gathered and now formed a soft bed for him. Sheltered there, lying in wonderful solitude, it occurred to him then that this was a good place for Bennosuke Shinmen to die.
Bennosuke Shinmen had wanted to be a samurai above all else, after all. Like breath clearing from a mirror, the name to which he had been born now clarified its stark obsolescence.
No, what he had done was choose to live, and in that choice redefined himself. Choice mattered. There was a name that he had used, that until now he had worn only as disguise. But it seemed to him natural to become this name now because, ultimately, it was he who had chosen it for himself.
It felt good. It felt right.
In the darkness, Musashi smiled.
Sleep came soon, one that he knew he would wake from, and for that time all was well.
But how quickly the world imposed itself back upon him.
He was drawn back into consciousness by the sound of a man howling in rage and despair. The blackness was entire, the stars and the moon stolen by the clouds. Only the screaming and the sounds of the rain told Musashi that he had woken at all.
Musashi listened for some time. There were no words in the man’s wailing, just a racked and torturous lament that had no end. Whoever it was did not sound far away, doubtless oblivious to the presence of any other, such was the dark. Musashi felt the chill of the rain now, his limbs numbed. He tried to rise. His hands groped blindly and his feet found uneven purchase, a mess of leaves and roots and mud beneath.
“Hello?” he called.
The howling stopped immediately. Musashi peered toward its source, but it was hopeless. He could not discern his hands before his face, let alone some distant figure amid the trees. After a few heartbeats he called out again, and this time the man answered tentatively: “Who is it that skulks out there?”
“I am not skulking,” said Musashi, and thought for some time about what to say next. The voice waited in guarded silence.
Eventually, Musashi said: “I was at the battle.”
“Are you alone?”
“I am. Are you?”
They were both of them hesitant to offer any more. Was there a harder thing to trust than an unseen voice in the night? Yet the pain in the man’s voice had been too real, and so Musashi put aside his own suspicion.
“My name is Musashi Miyamoto,” he said, and how natural it seemed. “I fought for the western coalition.”
“As did I,” said the man after a moment.
“What is your name?”
“That matters not now,” said the man. “What Lord do you serve?”
“That matters not.”
“No. It doesn’t, does it? It’s all of it destroyed.”
The rain spattered off Musashi’s armor, a cold rhythm on the metal. “Where are you? Shall I come to you?”
“I am here.”
“Keep talking, I’ll find you.”
“And speak of what?”
“Of what you will.”
Musashi began to try to move toward the voice. Against his face he felt bare branches, and he stumbled and slipped over unseen obstacles. His long sword at his waist caught against something, twisted him.
“You’ll not find me in this dark, and I do not ask you to,” came the man’s voice. “I ask only of you to bear witness to something.”
“I hereby pledge my soul against the Lord Kobayakawa. It was his betrayal that doomed us to defeat. He, the insidious thief who stole our dignity from us, that son of a whore, that son of a . . .” The voice cracked in rage, and was silent. When it spoke again it was more level. “For these reasons I protest his existence to all creation and pray for his damnation to the myriad hells. My ghost shall haunt him mercilessly until it has its rightful vengeance.”
“Ghost?” said Musashi, hands closing on something slick, wet moss upon a bough perhaps. “Why would you speak of ghosts? You live yet. Are you wounded?”
“Then why do you speak of ghosts?”
“Only one thing remains left undone,” said the voice.
Seppuku. Self-immolation. Emblem of the Way.
Nausea returned to Musashi’s empty stomach. “Do not do that,” he said.
“It is all that remains.”
“It is not.”
“Why should I live? All is gone. Now I am no more than the stink of smoke after arson.”
“No!” said Musashi. “No, you are not.”
“If you would like, I in turn shall hear any final vows you should care to make.”
“Do not perform seppuku!” said Musashi. “Wait for me, I’ll . . .”
He forced himself through the blackness. He slipped and fell, felt the stomach of his armor smash onto something hard like rock. Though he was shielded, the shock of it still hurt. He hauled himself to his feet once more.
“No seppuku for me,” said the voice. “I have not the implements to observe the ritual properly. I shall settle for opening my throat. It feels as though I am already in oblivion in this darkness.”
“You can’t,” said Musashi. “You mustn’t.”
“I am of the Way. What else is there to do?”
Musashi’s body contorted itself around the sightless realm. For all his effort the voice did not sound any closer. The wound on his head was throbbing once more, the pain searing, stealing words from him. “Don’t. Don’t do it. Don’t!”
“What are you, some deceptive spirit? A tengu haunting me and leading me from truth? No. That cannot be. Tengu are old and wily. You have the voice of a child.”
“I’m sixteen. I’m a man.”
“Indeed,” said the voice, and it laughed cruelly. “How is it you think you stand in a position to advise me? I am twice your age, boy.”
“I understand enough,” called Musashi. “My father committed seppuku at command of his Lord. He thought he would save his honor, but he was betrayed and died disgraced instead. If he had chosen to live, he could have . . . No. Why wonder? He didn’t. He chose to annihilate himself.”
“What was your father’s crime?”
“None, he performed it on account of . . .” Me. “He performed it, and now all men speak ill of him. His name was Munisai Shinmen.”
“I have heard of him.”
“And what have you heard?”
“That he died a coward.”
“He was not. I swear to you this. The agony he endured with that sword in his stomach . . . Yet because he is dead he cannot contest this, and that agony was for nothing. No. Stupidity his only crime. This is what you are assenting to. Do not do it.”
“You do not sound as though you honor your father.”
The hate that surfaced as he thought of Munisai was familiar, but it could not be spoken. “I avenged him,” Musashi said. “Just this day I killed the man responsible. After years. The clan Nakata, you know them?”
“The burgundy men. Sworn to the Ukita.”
“Yes. The heir. Hayato—I cut his head from him after the battle. I had the chance to kill him two years before, but it would have cost me my life. So I did not, and I hated myself for living. But I lived, I chose to live and I will live, and in that I have everything I need.” He felt exhausted, Musashi, felt hollow, but sudden energy came as he thought of what had inspired him. “The battle! Were you not at the battle earlier? Did you not see those thousands of bodies? Why should you aspire to be that? A corpse is not godly.”
The voice was not swayed: “So you will seek to shirk your honor.”
“What honor?” called Musashi, voice breaking with the effort and the pain. “The honor of a . . . the Way, the Way of death, that honor? No! It is an act of stupidity! The greatest stupidity! Nothing less than that! Nothing more! Seppuku, a . . . a . . . a mist, a black mist, that some spirit has blown into the minds of men! What is the point of birth at all if your ultimate act is to negate yourself, all you have done, all you might do? My father, ended by it! Thousands, millions, who knows how many: ended! Think of all they could have achieved instead of casting everything aside! Choosing to cast everything aside! Bad enough that a Lord would demand it, worse still that someone would choose to give it! You have a mind of your own; do not let it be broken over ancient words and codes, only to find the same worthless nothingness as all that went before you!”
He found himself shuddering, from what he could not tell, cold or exhaustion or the pulsing, throbbing wound that seemed to be digging into the center of his skull, the wound that flared fierce with each word spoken, but when the samurai spoke next it was as though Musashi had said nothing at all: “So you will not die this day?”
“No,” said Musashi. “No I will not. I choose to live.”
“What do you intend, then, with this precious life of yours?”
Musashi had not considered this. “I shall return home.”
“You can bear that?” The man laughed. “To see your mother? To see your father? To see your wife and your sons and your friends and the men who rake your garden, see the hatred in their eyes when they learn that you live after such calamity?”
“Why would they hate me?”
“Because it is proper to hate those who linger after all is lost. No—not I. I cannot return home. I refuse to be hated.”
“What if they’re wrong?”
“They’re not wrong.”
“But you know them to be wrong. You said it yourself—the defeat was the fault of the clan Kobayakawa.”
The rain fell relentlessly, splitting the silence between them.
“That matters not,” said the voice eventually. “Still they will hate.”
“But you know the truth.”
“What does that matter? A pearl that but a single person can see is no pearl at all.”
“That’s . . .” said Musashi, and how his head throbbed and how he wanted to vomit. But still the blackness overwhelming, still his hands formless and powerless, and the words he needed now equally invisible to him.
“I have said all that is needed to be said,” said the voice. “May my spirit find its vengeance.”
“Don’t!” said Musashi.
Above the rain he thought he heard a sound that was equally as wet; a hiss that settled into a gurgle that settled into nothing. Musashi called to the man but received no reply, and eventually he accepted that he was gone. He felt his way to the floor, sat down amid the mulch, and felt the ache of his entire body.
“Why?” he called.
The world gave him no answer.
“Why?” he called again.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An exciting read that is very well written.